Cosmic•Atomic (Fall 2022 Edition)


Cosmic•Atomic is an immersive trip across time and space and a nostalgic love letter to the past in pursuit of a more #OpenScience future. My intent was to remind people of what it felt like to see themselves and their place in the Universe for the very first time, whether in a library, a classroom, or an IMAX theater. Cosmic•Atomic is a living archive of our collective history of inquiry and exploration, an accessible demonstration of the iterative nature of knowledge creation, and a call for more personal and subjective defenses of the scientific method.

It syncs together Powers of Ten’s sources and imitators, collapses their chronology, and juxtaposes their soundtracks to create an immersive and emotional experience of scientific storytelling that uses emerging technology to reboot those initial thrills of discovery. In these turbulent times, as we enter the Webb Space Telescope era, I hope, beyond hope, that Cosmic•Atomic can help inspire new ways of looking up at the sky and down to earth.

The ten minute experience locates the viewer within a 360 degree kaleidoscopic ring of mirrored ascent/descent. The journey begins in the Netherlands with Kees Boeke’s Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Jumps, a 1957 book exploring outer space and our inner selves through orders of magnitude. It then takes us, in turn, to Miami for Charles and Ray Eames’ 1968 “rough sketch” film adaption of Boeke’s book, to Montreal in that same year for the National Film Board’s Cosmic Zoom version, to Chicago in 1977 for Powers of Ten, the Eames team’s final draft commissioned by IBM, to Venice in 1996 for the IMAX remake Cosmic Voyage, to the Googleplex for the 2012 Cosmic Eye smartphone app, and, finally, to the Adler Planetarium for the European Southern Observatory’s 2016 “Blueprints of the Universe.”

It’s been said that Charles Eames hoped Powers of Ten would give ten-year-olds a “gut feeling” of the dimensions of scale by taking them on an interstellar zoom of ever-increasing speed and expanding perspective before plummeting them all the way back down to a single proton. Cosmic•Atomic compresses the sixty years of scientific imagination that preceded/followed Eames’ vision and invites you to feel them all at once.